Successful mayors build relationships: with the business community, with the city council, state legislature and the governor. They maintain those relationships even when they want to punch someone in the nose. Biting tongue is the mark of a professional politician.
Mayor Bill Finch suffers from relationship fatigue, even within the basic sphere of usual suspects. When a mayor proposes to cut one third of the library staff of one of the finest public library systems in the state, dramatically reduce school based health clinics, and asks for union givebacks while proposing a tax increase that, according to Finch, will hike taxes on his home across from Beardsley Park by $600 dollars, you need all the friends you can get.
Let’s take a look at the city’s legislative delegation in Hartford, the half dozen or so locally elected officials that want to bring home as much bacon to the burg as possible. Finch has not reached out to them collectively, has not badgered them with phone calls, and has no unified plan to squeeze as much loot out of this legislative process as possible. This from a guy that spent seven years in the state senate, and should know what relationships mean.
On Wednesday I chatted with the longest serving legislator in Bridgeport’s history, State Rep. Bob Keeley who also happens to be chair of the mighty bonding committee that authorizes spending and funds major improvements. Keeley and Finch, once friends, are at war.
“We’re on our own,” Keeley said regarding the delegation’s relationship with the mayor. “There needs to be a unification of the delegation. There’s too much bad blood. The city is inching closer to devastation.”
Keeley charged that Finch and his chief of staff Adam Wood are too focused on political agendas at the city’s expense. Keeley said that he has not received a phone call from Finch or Wood about what the city’s legislative delegation can do to help. Keeley had praise for Michele Mount, the city’s legislative aide, but added that Mount has not received proper communication from the mayor.
Once friends, the relationship between Finch and Keeley might be irreparable. Keeley supported fellow State Rep. Chris Caruso in the primary. The Finch communication gap is real. When City Council President Tom McCarthy reads the final details of the mayor’s proposed budget in the newspaper that tells me they’re not paying attention to the little things that mean a lot. And McCarthy’s supposed to be a friend. Finch won the primary with McCarthy’s help. But, of course, McCarthy supported Mario Testa for Democratic town chair against the wishes of Finch and Wood who looked like amateurs trying to deliver their candidate so now they look at McCarthy as someone who did not do the right thing. What a bunch of crap.
How many boneheaded decisions have Finch and Wood made? Do I need recite them one more time? So now they’re keeping score every time someone does not side with them? We’re going to get even with this one, get even with that one seems to be the priority.
Finch needs a deodorant to mask the stench of his poor relationship building. Maybe a right guard to cover his left flank. Republican State Sen. Rob Russo, in office for just one month, has told Finch and Wood that he’ll do whatever he can to help the city during this tough budget process.
Finch is blaming the election-year budget built by his predecessor John Fabrizi as the source of the fiscal madness. Some of it has merit. But Fabrizi did something Finch has failed to do: he had respectful relations with the governor and generally the city’s legislative delegation. The mayor has to tell the delegation what he wants from them.
Keeley said that Democrats in the legislature are looking at some creative ideas to fund the cost of tax-exempt properties (colleges, hospitals and state properties) that could generate millions in additional revenue to the cities. One idea, trying to make its way through, is a new tax on delivery services such as Federal Express and United Parcel in which the revenue would cover the costs of tax-exempt properties. The Finch proposal to increase the sales tax in cities is dead, according to Keeley.
A Public Hearing will be held before the Budget and Appropriations Committee of the Bridgeport City Council on Wednesday evening, April 9, 2008 beginning at 6:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, City Hall, 45 Lyon Terrace, Bridgeport, Connecticut, relative to the Mayor’s Recommended Budget for Fiscal Year 2008 – 2009, to include General Fund and Board of Education.
The mayor has thrown the book at the library system. James O’Donnell, president of the Board of Directors of the Bridgeport Public Library, is throwing back, in a letter he sent to the mayor on Wednesday taking issue with the mayor’s proposed cuts and his characterization of library services as non-essential. I agree with Wondering that the city must look at other areas to cut such as mounted police patrols to save library staff. See excerpts from O’Donnell’s letter below:
Mayor Bill Finch
Re: 2008-2009 Proposed Budget
Unconscionable Cuts to Library Service
Although I serve as President of the Board of Directors of the Bridgeport Public Library, I write to you as a private citizen. You know me, Bill, and I thought I knew you.
In your campaign literature you stated “We want to do everything we can to reexamine how the City conducts its business and find ways to improve the delivery of vital city services.” Bill Finch @ billfinch.org 11/29/2007. Yet without any consultation or inquiry you pronounced to the Editorial Board of the Connecticut Post on April 1 that: “Libraries are not essential services. We tax poor and working-class people to pay for things that the state and federal government should pay for” Connecticut Post 4/2/2008. On the contrary libraries are not just essential, but fundamental to the vitality of a local community. The implication that our libraries increase the tax burden in an unnecessary or disproportionate manner or that state or federal governments, that have never provided operational funding and have always left local communities to establish and maintain libraries, will now pay for library services is simply false.
From your mayoral campaign I understood and appreciated that efficient government and improvements in education were cornerstones of your plans for economic development in Bridgeport. Libraries, especially in our City which has only one bookstore, are the only source of reading material for the general population. Our libraries provide essential service to the poor and working class who have no other access to the internet, job placement and tax assistance service. The mission of the Bridgeport Public Library is: “To provide the citizens of Bridgeport with opportunities to pursue lifelong learning, cultural and economic enrichment and enjoyment through free and open access to creative works, knowledge and information from diverse perspectives in a variety of formats”
As an urban library, the Bridgeport Public Library has an essential role to play in improving the quality of life for city residents and contributing to core city revitalization. Other communities have recognized the fundamental role libraries play not only in the vitality and quality of life in a community, but also in its economic development. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has stated in commenting on the importance of libraries: “I think you have to understand what a library does. It is more than the internet, more than a bookstore. It’s part of the community, an educational place for all ages to go to. To me it’s a wonderful experience to go there. In a knowledge based society and economy we’d better be promoting more and more libraries” American Libraries, April, 2007 p.60.
As Chicago has learned libraries are an attraction and integral part of local development. Ibid. That experience has been confirmed by a study of the Urban Libraries Council entitled Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development, published in January, 2007 and endorsed by ICMA (International City/County Management Association), the premier local government leadership and management organization, in its October, 2007 report, Local Government Managers and Public Libraries: Partners for a Better Community which noted that “From bridging the digital divide to offering solutions to societal challenges, the public library has evolved into the essential “go to” facility for young and old alike place – both physically and in cyber-space.” Id., p. 1. Copies of the three documents cited will be included in the hard mail copy of this letter for your information.
If improvement of education truly is a cornerstone of your plans for economic development in Bridgeport you must appreciate how our libraries serves as the foundation to support that cornerstone. It is estimated that roughly 23,000 students attend Bridgeport schools, approximately 17% of the City’s total population. Our libraries serve all of them, in particular the most challenging segment of our school population, our teens. Our libraries, not the schools, serve the needs of the other 83% of our citizens, the group that actually pays the taxes. In last year’s budget the schools were allocated $198,441,011 representing almost 43% of the total City budget. The Library allocation was $4,099,131, about $30 per person and less than 1% of the total City budget of $462,031,673. Yet your proposal for this coming fiscal year would slash the only service in the City that assists the education of all citizens. It also disproportionately imposes more than 25% of the proposed City-wide personnel cuts just from the Library, reducing its staff by more than one-third. This will curtail service by the most dedicated group of employees in the City who just this year have helped to add hours on Monday at our Burroughs-Saden Library and to permit more convenient hours at all branches.
While I applaud your objective – to perform needed surgery to restore our fiscal health – wielding an ax to bludgeon the essential services of our Library is misguided and counterproductive to the ultimate goal of restoring Bridgeport through economic development that will follow improvements to, not destruction of, the one institution that fosters quality of life in our community. Please make time in your schedule to meet with Library users and staff to develop a better plan for improving our City. I will be happy to work with you to do so.